Water for winter

Water is the lifeblood of 21st century skiing. Before climate change began messing with winter weather patterns, ski areas could usually count on natural snowfall to provide a relatively reliable skiing surface for most of the season. No more. For ski resorts everywhere, snowmaking, enabled by the conversion of local water resources into artificially made snow, is now essential to doing business.

Tremblant is both unusually challenged in securing water for snowmaking and unusually fortunate. It is challenged because, unlike most resorts, ski slopes descend on various sides of the mountain. Trail layouts at most ski areas, built on north-facing slopes, can tap into a single water source. Not Tremblant, which needs separate water sources for north- and south-side trails.

Tremblant’s good fortune comes with having abundant and accessible water sources on both sides of the mountain. No need, as at many ski resorts, to build artificial reservoirs to divert and collect water for snowmaking. On the south side is Lac Tremblant, from which the resort gets about 70 percent of its snowmaking water. On the north side is the Diable River.

Those two sources provide the roughly 1.3 million cubic meters of water needed for snowmaking efforts each winter, according to Martin Rochon, Tremblant’s Director of Mountain Operations.

Using that much water demands a high level of civic responsibility. The water doesn’t belong to Tremblant to do with it as it pleases; it is a shared resource, supporting wildlife, aquatic life, and vegetation, providing drinking water for local communities, and being vital to non-winter recreation as well as snowmaking. The resort can’t withdraw the water without factoring in the potential impact on the larger environmental and recreational picture.

All of Tremblant’s water management practices must meet the approval of the provincial ministry for “sustainable development, environment, and the fight against climate change” (known as the MDDELCC by its French acronym). Of prime importance is that Tremblant takes care that water withdrawals don’t adversely affect lake and river levels.

Given the size of Lac Tremblant, even the withdrawal of almost a million cubic meters a year has little impact on the lake’s water level. But more care must be taken on the north side where there is much greater variability in the level of the Diable River. According to Rochon, a probe in the pumphouse that draws water from the river into the snowmaking system automatically shuts off withdrawal if the pressure measured at the probe drops below a prescribed level.

The resort must also be sensitive, both in its snowmaking practices and trail management, to what happens to the melting snow in spring. Erosion control and the prevention of excessive sediment runoff are critical considerations. According to Rochon, Lac Miroir in Tremblant village serves the purpose of intercepting sediment before it can migrate to Lac Tremblant. Regardless, says Rochon, problems of erosion and sedimentary deposit are typically of more concern after summer downpours than in the gradual release of water during the spring snowmelt.

In fact, Rochon insists that the water drawn from Lac Tremblant is almost too clean for snowmaking. Some sedimentary particles in the water can actually help as tiny nuclei in the formation of the crystals spewed out from snowmaking guns. In the past, Tremblant, like many ski resorts, has even added benign particulates to the mix to improve crystal formation. But thanks to improved snowmaking hardware installed in recent years, the resort no longer uses additives, says Rochon.

Essentially, the water withdrawn from the lake and river returns unchanged in the spring melt. That’s good news for the environment and good news for outdoor enthusiasts, both in winter and summer.

Peter Oliver9 Posts

Journaliste et éditeur depuis – selon ses dires – bien trop longtemps, Peter verra son travail publié dans de nombreuses publications majeures en Amérique du Nord, notamment en tant qu'auteur prolifique pour Skiing magazine dans les années 1980 et 1990. Il est l'auteur de sept livres sur le ski, le vélo et les voyages outre-mer. Skieur depuis l'âge de sept ans, il est venu skier à Tremblant pour la première fois avec sa famille en 1964. Aujourd'hui, il enseigne le ski de fond à Ole's Cross Country Centre, près de sa maison dans la vallée de la rivière Mad, au Vermont. / Peter Oliver’s work has appeared in numerous major publications in North America, most notably as a prolific writer for Skiing magazine in the 1980s and 1990s. He is the author of seven books on skiing, cycling, and international travel. He has been a skier since the age of seven, and first came to Tremblant on a ski vacation with his family in 1964. Today, he spends more time cross-country skiing than downhill skiing, and teaches cross-country, skate skiing in particular, at Ole’s Cross Country Center near his home in Vermont’s Mad River Valley.

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